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"New woman" NZ artist subject of CUP book

Article from the University of Canterbury's Chronicle - 08/11/02

Rhona Haszard, expatriate artist and socially controversial "new woman", is the subject of a new book just released by Canterbury University Press.

Rhona Haszard
The book, Rhona Haszard: An Experimental Expatriate New Zealand Artist, is written by art historian and Canterbury graduate Dr Joanne Drayton and examines the life and work of the early 1900s artist with great sensitivity, placing her in a fascinating and cosmopolitan social milieu while celebrating her vivid and compelling art.

To research Haszard, Dr Drayton retraced the artist's footsteps in New Zealand and overseas, through France, England and Egypt, culminating in a stay in Alexandria where, in 1931, Haszard fell to her death from a tower at Victoria College.

Rhona Haszard was born in Thames in 1901 and was one of five children who enjoyed a privileged life with a devoted mother and a father who worked for the Lands and Survey Department, becoming commissioner of crown lands in 1910.

During her formative years, job transfers meant the family lived in Auckland, Christchurch, Hokitika and Invercargill (where she attended Southland Girls' High School).

At the age of 18, she enrolled at the former Canterbury College School of Art (now the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts), becoming a colourful member of an exciting, innovative, bohemian set of women artists that included Ngaio Marsh, Evelyn Page (nee Polson), Rata Lovell-Smith (nee Bird) and Olivia Spencer Bower.

Dr Drayton describes Rhona as a "new woman".

"She was a modern woman, a New Zealander who was ground-breaking in her art and her social and sexual behaviour.

"She dressed eccentrically, recommended Radclyffe Hall's lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness, spoke positively of de facto relationships and advocated vegetarianism and unprocessed food.

"But most significantly, she wanted to paint innovatively and professionally."

A successful future seemed assured by her marriage in 1922 to Ronald McKenzie, but her traumatic elopement with Englishman Leslie Greener seemed to threaten it all.

"It must have been with mixed feelings and amidst much social disapproval that Rhona transferred her affections to Leslie."

In 1926, the couple escaped to France and her post-impressionist style rapidly brought international recognition. She exhibited in Paris, London and throughout England and Scotland, and in Cairo, as well as sending work back to be exhibited in New Zealand. Her last exhibition opened in Alexandria in 1931 the night before her shocking death at age 30.

Dr Drayton was born in Balclutha, lived her early years in Invercargill and was educated in Christchurch. She graduated from Canterbury with a PhD in 2000.

She is the author of Edith Collier: Her Life and Work 1885-1964, also published by CUP, and curated an exhibition of Collier's work that toured the country.

More recently, in association with the Hocken Library, Dunedin, she has curated Rhona Haszard: An Experimental Expatriate Artist, which is touring New Zealand's major galleries until April 2005.

Dr Drayton is currently a lecturer in art history and theory in the School of Design at UNITEC in Auckland.

Rhona Haszard: An Experimental Expatriate New Zealand Artist. Limpbound, 240 x 170mm, 160 pp, colour and black/white illustrations; NZ$34.95.

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